Monday, January 18, 2016

Martin Luther King Day 2016

The other day, I was looking at the the central calendar in my home, checking on the wrestling schedule.  Looking at February, I remembered the time when we had Lincoln and Washington’s birthdays as separate holidays.  In 1983, Martin Luther King Junior’s birthday replaced the separate presidential birthdays on the list of federal holidays and we swapped two 3-day weekends in February for one to celebrate MLK in January and another to mark Lincoln and Washington in February.  I remember the controversy and complaining that followed.  You can learn some of those details here

Looking back, the progression of states agreeing to eventually honor the federal holiday seems rather churlish.  There was Arizona, where the state’s governors when back and forth about honoring the holiday.  Or take Arkansas, which honored the holiday by permitting state employees to take either a January three-day week and Martin Luther King day or Robert E. Lee’s birthday instead.  That’s the sort of decision that would be bitterly funny if it weren’t for our nation’s horrifying history of slavery and racial animosity.

In 2009, the year Barack Obama took office as our nation’s first African American president, a friend and I took our sons to a church service for Martin Luther King Day.  The next day, I kept JT home from school to watch Barack Obama take the oath of office.  That momentous day seemed so important —— a real step forward in the struggle for racial equality in a nation that has sometimes gone kicking and screaming toward the promise of liberty and equality laid out in our founding documents.

Fast forward to 2016, and it seems to me that the promise I felt in 2009 has stalled.  Yes, we have an African-American president in the White House and yes, he has taken the time to speak articulately about race.  But enduring inequality is all around us in 2016.  The racism evident in some critics of President Obama is disappointing in a nation that should be better than this.  It’s a victory of sorts that we are more aware than ever before of the racial and economic inequalities that persist in our nation.  For this, I expect Martin Luther King would be glad.  But in so many other ways, we’ve yet to live up to the dream.   There is hard work ahead and we must all do our part.  Today is a good day to acknowledge that reality.

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